Faites que le rêve dévore votre vie, afin que la vie ne dévore votre rêve … (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Friday, January 14, 2011

La première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules

Title: La première gorgée de bière et autres plaisirs minuscules
Author: Philippe Delerm
Publisher: L'Arpenteur / Gallimard (1997)
Language: French
91 pages

A collection of the little pleasures of life. If you have seen the French movie "Amélie" and remember how each character had a list of likes and dislikes; then this book can be viewed as a pleasant read of 34 "likes".  They may seem just like an everyday routine activity but some people take great joy in them and that idea is what the book is all about.

Each of the "likes" is described in a short story of about 2 or 3 pages.  Some of them are universal, but some are more typical of France and the French lifestyle.  Even if the situation was not something I was familiar with, I could still relate to the feeling it could stir in somebody because the writing was good enough to evoke those feelings in me.  For example, I have never played "La Pétanque" and have never met or seen anybody playing that game but reading about it was still very fun and I could totally relate to what the players of the game have experienced.

My favorite likes? The first sip of beer and the Agatha Christie novel! I won't spoil it for you and write all the other ones!  You will have to find out for yourself :) Enjoy!

The English translation is "The Small Pleasures of Life" with Sarah Hamp as translator. I have not read the translation so I can't really comment on it but I think it is worth reading in another language to see if all the subtleties of the French text and lifestyle could be adapted into English.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

35 kilos d'espoir

Title: 35 kilos d'espoir
Author: Anna Gavalda
Publisher: Bayard Jeunesse (2002)
Language: French
96 pages

The first novel I read from Anna Gavalda.  It's the touching story of Grégoire, a 13 year old boy who is not doing very well in school but this does not mean he is stupid or that he does not have any talent.

He is struggling but gets some help from his grand-father Léon until he fails so miserably at school that even his grand-father seems to have lost faith in him, or so he thinks.

This short novel is a page turner that I could not put down.   What I really like about Grégoire's story is the compassionate tone of the narrator.  I was expecting a lot of hardships for the young boy but he was surrounded by people who cared, people who loved him.

The author was very successful in making me root for her main character.  I despaired, and laughed, and cried along with little Grégoire.  That's quite a feat, considering the fact that she only had 96 pages to make it happen.

Gavalda's story filled me with so much hope and happiness.  I wished there were more novels like this one!

I did not read the English translation but I know it is entitled 95 Pounds of Hope (translator: Gill Rosner) and there is also a Spanish version 95 Libras de Esperanza (translator: Isabel Gonzalez-Gallarza).

Good read!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Les carnets d'une coquette raisonnable

Title: Les carnets d'une coquette raisonnable
Author: Hélène Millerand
Publisher: Editions du Seuil, 1992
Language: French
185 pages
"Les carnets d'une coquette raisonnable" is one of those books that you wished you could buy for each one of your girlfriends.  It is the ultimate beauty handbook but it encompasses much, much more than simple beauty tricks. 

The cover sets the tone for the whole book.  It is exquisite in its understated beauty and simplicity.  Delicately ribbed with a drawing of a lady sitting on what could be a Récamier, it seems to promise its reader a world of secret revelations within.  

The content did not disappoint me. It elevates the epicurean lifestyle to a whole new level of grace.

There are few illustrations and photos in the book, mostly from old French posters or adverts and they are only in black and white.  But they are all lovely and reflect the mood of the book perfectly.

 The book is divided in four main chapters:
1. Bath and Beauty
2. Clothes, Shoes and Accessories
3. Hygiene and Exercises
4. Love and Health

The first chapter is by far the best one in my opinion. The bath ritual becomes an art form in this book.  The author describes in extreme details the bath ritual and explains the care to be given for each part of the body.  It was marvelous to read through her step-by-step instructions as how to prepare oneself for a bath.

In the second chapter, Hélène Millerand details the perfect wardrobe any woman should have. You won't find the most recent fashion fad here.  She gives you a general overview of what makes an elegant woman.  What I like most was the section concerning undergarments. It was very informative.

Reading the third chapter felt like hearing my own mother and grandmother nag me constantly about protecting my skin from the sun.  Guess what? That advice is still good and all dermatologists will tell you to wear sunblock and wear your hat!   But the part where the author talks about old-wives medicine still has me wondering if it really does work.  Best way to find out is to try them out I suppose.

The fourth chapter is not so much a chapter as it is a Conclusion. It was only 2 pages long and the author shares her conservative views about marriage and having children.  This ending is a little abrupt as the reader goes from self-indulgent body care to family duties and obligations but it cannot really spoil the incredible feeling that the book had given me.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered

Title: Watercolor for the Artistically Undiscovered
Editors:John Cassidy, Thacher Hurd
Publisher: Klutz
Book and Access edition (1992)
Language: English
72 pages

This is a fabulous handbook/working book about watercolors for beginners.  It comes with a middle-sized brush (number 5) and a set of 6 paints from Reeves (exactly as shown on the cover page picture).  The author points out rightfully that if you have in the past used only five-and-dime watercolors, you will be very pleased with the Reeves paints.

 There are 9 sections:
1. Introduction
2. Really Basic Watercolor Technique
3. Color Mixing
4. Using your Pencil
5. Washes
6. Light and Shadow
7. Perspective
8. Painting a Still Life
9. Tell a Story

I don't think this is for children only. There are good instructions for the adults who have never experimented with watercolors before.  The information is presented in very big font and the instructions are easy to understand. 

Yes there are many blank pages to let the reader paint but the paper is of very good quality so it did soak up the paint nicely without causing the paper to warp. If you run out of paint or paper, the last page of the book shows you where you can order more.

I let children aged 6 to 8 paint with this book and they all loved it. They were especially impressed by the paints which felt quite different from their usual Crayola watercolors.  However, that age range is slightly too young because they would still need a lot of supervision. The recommended age is 9 to 12, but older children, and adults alike, can learn much from this book.

I showed the book to my friend who is teaching in elementary school and she liked the content very much. She has purchased one book to experiment herself and will suggest the book for her class.  I would recommend this if you are very new to watercolor painting but not if you are already familiar with it already. In which case you would just waste your money because the information shown is very basic.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Miss Potter: A Journal

Title: Miss Potter: A Journal
Author: Beatrix Potter
Publisher: Warne
Illustrated edition (Oct 19, 2006)
Language: English
32 pages

For the fans of Beatrix Potter's books, this is a true gem! With excerpts  from Beatrix's diaries, we discover her world through letters, watercolor paintings, photographs, maps, and even a Peter Rabbit Board Game!

 Here are some pictures from the book.  Click on the pictures to see them in higher resolution.

An album with several black and white photos are attached to one of the page.  Here is Miss Potter and her dog Spot.

An excerpt from Potter's own diaries and letters, and her report card from 1885, when she was 18 years old.

Paintings and sketches from Potter are shown very often in this book.  On the bottom right is a watercolor painting of the view from her window at Bolton Gardens.  On the upper right is a drawing she made for her brother.

One of my favorite pages is an envelope with a letter folded inside the envelope.  It was the letter she wrote to Noel Moore and her story of Peter Rabbit with her original drawings.

Nestled within the book's back cover is a small book with a cardboard cover, similar to Potter's first Privately printed edition of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit". 

There are many more surprises to this book and I don't regret at all getting it! This one is a keeper!